Can a Painter Place a Lien for Frivolous “Back Charges”

3 months ago

We’ve been working with a painter and agreed to pay him $6500 to paint the interior of our home. The night prior to him finishing up the project he sends over a handwritten list of “back charges” for $7,000. Keep in mind the entire project was supposed to cost $6500- so this new charge took the interior costs to $13,500. He claimed that this was for additional work he had been doing but he didn’t inform us or have us sign change orders. Previously we agreed to a change order for $2k so we assumed anything that was being done for the remainder of the project was covered under the original scope of work unless he presented a change order. We ended up giving him a check for only the remaining part of our original contract and having him escorted off of our property by the police. He’s now threatening to place a lien on our building and sue us unless we pay him $15,000. We never physically signed a contract with this guy- does that mean he can’t file a lien? Obviously there was an offer, acceptance and consideration so it was in every essence a contract, but does he need a signature on a contract in Kentucky to file a lien? Does a contractor need signed change orders in order to place a lien or collect back charges since they were never presented or approved by the owners?

Additional info about this contractor
Project Role: Owner
Project Type: Residential
Senior Legal Associate Levelset
355 reviews

If the contract for work wasn’t put to writing, then change orders which amend the agreement might not necessarily need to be in writing, either. For situations where there’s a written agreement to point to, it’s easy to dismiss verbal agreements that attempt to amend the contract – especially when the existence of a verbal change order is arguable in the first place. However, when there’s no written contract to point to, an owner could have an uphill battle in arguing that the scope was limited to less than the work which was actually performed. Without the agreement being put to writing, there’s a lot of room for misunderstandings and interpretations.

Ultimately, when there’s no reliable agreement to point to on the job, matters may come down to the value of the work which was provided to the property. That is, if the owner can’t prove the original scope and price of the agreement. So, with a lien dispute on the horizon, it’d be wise to round up all possible project documentation and communications that might help to establish the contract scope and price.

This sounds a lot like another question that was recently posted here at the Expert Center, and the answer posted there should be helpful too: Do you need a contract to file a lien? And, as discussed in that article, a written contract may not necessarily be needed in order to file a Kentucky mechanics lien.

Additional mechanics lien resources for property owners

Finally, these articles should be valuable to an owner who’s received the threat of a lien claim and may soon be dealing with a lien on their property: (1) I Just Received a Notice of Intent to Lien – What Should I Do Now?; and (2) A Mechanics Lien Was Filed on My Property – What Do I Do Now?

Disclaimer: The information presented here is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. Rather, this content is provided for informational purposes. Do not act on this information as if it is advice. Further, this post does not create any attorney-client relationship. If you do need legal advice, seek the help of a local attorney.
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